What is a Customs Broker?
I've been a Customs Broker for over 38 years and even with all that time in the industry I'm not sure I can give you an easy definition. Let me start by sharing the "official" definition as provided by U.S. Customs & Border Protection:
"Customs brokers are private individuals, partnerships, associations or corporations licensed, regulated and empowered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assist importers and exporters in meeting Federal requirements governing imports and exports. Brokers submit necessary information and appropriate payments to CBP on behalf of their clients and charge them a fee for this service.
Brokers must have expertise in the entry procedures, admissibility requirements, classification, valuation, and the rates of duty and applicable taxes and fees for imported merchandise."
That is a fairly concise definition of what a Customs Broker is and what a Customs Broker does but a question many importers may ask is this, "do I NEED a Customs Broker?" The short answer is no, an importer can deal directly with U.S. Customs & Border Protection for each shipment they import. The longer answer is a bit more complex.
While there are at least several hundred thousand companies that import into the U.S. only a small percentage do so without the services of a Customs Broker. Even large importers, think auto companies and major electronics companies, rarely handle their own imports. Even these "big guys" rely on the expertise of a Customs Broker in most cases to help them navigate the confusing Customs' regulations and requirements.
In an industry that has seen a rapid rise in the costs of doing business one cost has remained fairly constant throughout, that is the cost for the fees charged by licensed, experienced Customs Brokers. While the requirements and regulations have grown more complicated Customs Brokers have "held the line" and many are charging roughly the same fees they charged 10 or more years ago. Considering the importance of the Customs Broker I'd say that they are one of the best bargains in business.
Let me close by saying this, the key to having a good relationship with your Customs Broker is communication. Talk with your Customs Broker before you decide to import a new product or make changes in your import processes and procedures. A good broker is like a fine wine, well maybe not a fine wine but a good broker can be hard to fine. Today over 15,000 individuals in the U.S. are licensed as Customs Brokers but their level of experience and expertise can vary greatly and vary from industry to industry. TALK to your Customs Broker. Ask questions before you retain a Customs Broker's services and stay in communication with them on a regular basis.
If you need a reputable, experienced Customs Broker we'd invite you to contact us - firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd be happy to answer your questions and thrilled to be your Customs Broker.